Monday, September 7, 2009

50/50 in 2020: Parity for Women Theatre Artists - Part 2

Playwright Crystal Skillman continues her report on 50/50 in 2020: Parity for Women Theatre Artists, a panel and working event sponsored by the League of Professional Theatre Women, New Perspectives Theatre Company, and Women’s Project. To be kept up to date about this topic, check out their Facebook page.

“Get it in Print.”

Alexis Greene (critic/author) and Milly Barranger (author) hit home how to share our work, create a record of history and gain production, as well as career opportunities, all through one simple act – publishing. Getting your work in print and knowing your history matters. Because as Milly pointed out, voices are missing from history. Ours. Both Alexis and Milly fight against this in the publications they edit or write, as well as their work in education. Alexis’s recent book Front Lines: Political Plays by American Women (with co-editor Shirley Lauro) is one of my favorite new additions to my library and it was great to hear Alexis remind us playwrights not to freak out about publishing non-produced plays. It not only creates a record of the work, but can go around to universities and school where there is a call for work by women. These classes want published work by contemporary women writers that can be studied and performed. Another Alexis – playwright Alexis Clements, who is in the Women’s Project playwriting lab with me, filled me in with some awesome notes she feverishly scrawled on the working group that Alexis Greene led later in the night:
- Publishing is an important and powerful tool for disseminating women’s work and also for establishing a critical dialogue about the work
- In American there is more squeamishness about publishing ahead of production. For example, in Britain, it’s very common for a work to be published before production.
- Traditional publishing has a very long time-scale 2-5 years to get a book done, but in purchasing a distribution package though a company like
lulu.com, you can get your book published with an ISBN and distribution to major outlets within a matter of months.

During the panel, playwright Caridad Svich’s work publishing playwrights from her group No Passport was also mentioned as a great model. She’s created NoPassport Press that has not only brought great attention to their diverse group of writers, but allowed new readers and possible producers to experience these plays. In short the message is get the work out there, and the more we have in print, the more of a chance we have for future generations to know our history and the work we’ve created.

Soooooo say you already sent off your play to lulu.com. Or you’re putting together a group of plays to be published. Now, how are you going to continue to engage that conversation about you and your work?

“Theatre Can Be About People You Know”

One of my favorite moments of the night was when Linda Winer (critic/television host) spoke. She described coming from Chicago where it wasn’t such a big deal to be a woman theatre critic. But when she came here it was very different for her. Still it wasn’t until she was sitting watching Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women & Others that she realized the above comment she shared with us. She realized she was never seeing plays that spoke to her directly and over time, as we know, she became an amazing champion of women’s work. But print is in huge trouble as we know. Also as we know, this has put criticism in the hands of so many more people and blogsters have been able to discuss theatre in a totally new way. It was emotional for Linda, sharing her concern of print being at such a crossroads. There is barely the right amount of attention being given to larger shows, not to mention anything below Broadway. But I think for all of us this crisis can bring up how we can really use these postings, reviews, essays in a way that can benefit us all. This is part of a larger conversation and one I’m only stepping into now, but I’ve already seen how exposure with on-line articles, blurbs and reviews can draw attention to those voices that are just not being heard on stage to help raise them up. Shortly after, in the Q & A section, Randy Gener (American Theatre Magazine) stood up and shared some amazing ideas of his own. He talked about looking for ways to get people to write “think pieces” about your work — to start conversations.

And these conversations need to include all generations and backgrounds – we really need to reach out to each other. The panelists themselves remarked on how they wished there was more diversity in the already packed theatre. I noted some of the younger artists who I’d seen in previous meetings were absent. It’s important to keep this in mind because only by working together, in ways that each of us can do best, can we have true momentum, keeping our ideas for solutions as diverse as the work we’re trying to bring attention to.

“We’re Responsible for Each Other.”

Natalia L. Griffith (NYC Commission on Women’s Issues), wrapped up the night in an inspiring way by opening up this conversation to the injustices of racial and gender inequality throughout the world and how important it is to take action. This reminds me of a point Susan Jonas brought up earlier – a call for a need to track statistics “regularly and with a consistent methodology to measure actual progress against perception. And against specific goals”. We need not only to understand the state of things, but measure our own possible effects in the years to come.

When the groups broke off and started brainstorming, groups on the stage, in the aisles, in the lobby, spilling onto the streets I saw people gravitating towards their passion – be it producing, publishing, criticism. This is the key for me. What can each of us do that uses our skills and what skills can we share and/or learn that helps the cause, while enriching our lives as artists and helping any of our neighbors whose stories are not being told? Because if you stand up for others to have their stories told, stories which are having difficulty being heard in the world, you open up possibilities for your own work to be produced. Maybe who you mentored will be getting their first production or reading their first review (yikes!) on-line or in the paper. Maybe for the first time they’ll get to direct a large cast or have a budget to hang lights or create a set. Maybe they’ll get to produce a show. Maybe it’s even yours. I hope so. Cuz I’ll be there. Front row. And maybe, just maybe by 2020 the program from this meeting, this very article, these 50/50 buttons will be in some museum, because they won’t be needed anymore. Maybe Julie Crosby said it best: “Nothing would make me happier than to see the mission of the Women’s Project obsolete.” To keep adding to this conversation or to learn more about 50/50 in 2020 please check out their page/become a fan on Facebook.


Crystal Skillman is a playwright, published in Plays & Playwrights 2008, and contributer to nytheatre.com. Her upcoming projects include Hack, a play in the Vampire Cowboy’s Saloon Series kicking off on Sept. 12th and That’s Andy, a musical about a boy who wants to play Annie, receiving a developmental reading at the York Theatre Oct. 6th at 3 PM.

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